Obviously there are wills and minutes and reports and all sorts of miscellaneous stuff included in the database, but as far as me and Michelle are concerned, the most interesting wodge of documents are those relating to the Lancashire County Quarter Sessions, which basically cover our local court cases going back to the year dot, if not before. And there are quite a few surprises hidden away amongst all the evictions and quitclaims and writs, such as ‘Dorothie, wife of Thomas Shawe of Skippool’, in 1627 being accused of witchcraft.
That’s not the sort of case you’d expect to be presented in court nowadays. (The occasional dodgy palm reading, perhaps, or some litigation brought about by a skull-shaped candle dripping hot wax onto a grockle’s new dress…but witchcraft doesn’t seem to be regarded with the same amount of panic these days.) However, back in 1627, it was no laughing matter. Apparently, Dorothie’s neighbour, William Wilkinson, called her a ‘witch and a demdyke’ (harsh words indeed) claiming, “Thou art a witch…God bless me…I am affrayed for my wife, children and goods…” (Although not necessarily in that order.) That last bit of information, incidentally, was garnered from Graham Evan’s excellent ‘Skippool: Old Port of Poulton le Fylde’, because, unfortunately, the online records don’t go into much detail.
Regardless of the pracied contents at the records website, there’s still a lot to be gleaned. For example, one item of interest from 1628 is the ‘burial certificate of a child of Richard Rossall, husbandman, to appear at Sessions for selling adulterated grain to Arthur Sharples of Freckleton, gent, in Poulton Market’. (You get the general impression that Richard Rossall wasn’t having the best of weeks.
Then there’s this, also from 1628: “John Sandam, milner, bastardy on Alice Smith, spinster.” Yes…before anybody starts, bastardy was exactly what it implied, i.e. the shiring of an illegitimate child and the refusal to cover its costs afterwards, only without the CSA tracking you down through rain, mud or snow or the ‘Fathers for Justice’ people standing in the dock dressed as Batman.
Bastard children were incredibly numerous back in those times, especially for some reason around Pilling. It was a hobby that seemingly chronicled the Pilling residents throughout the centuries. By way of example (and there are literally hundreds of them) we find this: “An order of filiation and maintenance of the bastard child of John Hornby, the younger, of Pilling, wheelwright, and Mary Preston, in 1810.” In fact, it’s worth visiting the website for yourselves and typing Pilling into the search engine just to see what we mean.
Here’s another example, from 1811: “Order of filiation and maintenance of bastard son of Richard Higginson of Pilling, husbandman, and Peggy Clarkson, single-woman.” Husbandman…now there’s an irony for you. Given the vast number of such illegitimate offspring (and, no, we’ve no idea whether our old friend John Higginson at the Fylde and Country Life Museum is descended from the aforementioned Richard, so let’s assume that he isn’t and leave it at that), it’s hard to believe that anyone left in the village nowadays actually stems from a ‘legitimate’ source. No wonder they shut down the Newers’ Wood chapel and rebuilt the church smack bang in the village centre.
Other recorded misdemeanours include, from Poulton in1634, a petition by Isabel Crosfeilde, widow, against damage done to her ground by her son-in-law Thomas Crosfeilde. In response, the aforementioned Thomas Crosfeilde (and others) filed a petition against Isabel and Margaret her daughter for threats. Who needs council estates for entertainment when you’ve got 17th century Poulton, eh?
Sticking with Poulton, in 1701, Robert Taylor applied for compensation for the ‘over assessment’ of his windows. We’re not talking about dodgy window cleaners charging by the pane of glass here, but the local council charging people for window tax. Or rather overcharging them, because, a further search reveals that quite a substantial number of people were over-assessed. (Poulton council overcharging people eh? Who’d have thunk it?) All of which would be enough to drive the average person to drink, which, by all accounts, is what made several locals steal on various occasions from Jonathan Blackburne Esq.’s Poulton-le-Fylde malt kilns that same year. (How was that for a smooth and almost unnoticeable segway?)
Also in Poulton in 1634, was the “…presentment of five named people for riotous assault on Christopher Harris.” We’re not sure what he’d done to upset them. He might have been a window tax assessor or possibly stolen something of value belonging to them, as was the case in Out Rawcliffe in 1637 when Richard Butler, gent, prosecuted Edward and John Williamson (presumably not gents) for stealing his geese. (Another excellent segway there…I’m getting good at these.
Meanwhile in Pilling in 1627, John Eskham complained that James Hornby of Upper Rawcliffe and Christofer Fox of Pilling, yeoman, had deprived him of his estate. (And, let’s face it, you need an estate when you live in Pilling, if only to drive your lazy sheep around in.) Remaining in Pilling, in 1691 John Threlfall of the Sands Side, yeoman, assaulted Christophillus Walker...possible because of his stupid name.
We could go on like this for years, but you’re probably eager to discover some of these cases for yourselves by now. So, we recommend that you bookmark this excellent website (http://www.a2a.org.uk in case you’d forgotten) and use it as a preliminary to visiting the actual records office. It’s especially useful, of course, for local researchers and historical voyeurs alike, full of interesting items that you can bore your friends to death with in the pub on Saturday night.